India has dealt with the “worst crisis” in decades along its border with China with “firmness and maturity” despite facing the challenge of the coronavirus pandemic, Foreign Secretary Harsh Vardhan Shringla said on Thursday. In an address at a leading think-tank in Paris, Shringla mentioned two recent terrorist incidents in France, one of which he said had its origins in Pakistan, noting that the civilised world needs to act with firmness to address the threat of terrorism.
Shringla said India and France face similar non-traditional security threats in the form of radicalism and terrorism, and the fight today is not against specific communities or individuals but against a “radical politico-religious ideology”. Delving into major geostrategic issues, he said the immediate challenges have not been able to distract India from broader strategic goals, especially in the Indo-Pacific region where it is moving purposefully at multiple levels to create an “open, inclusive architecture”.
— Harsh V Shringla (@harshvshringla) October 29, 2020
Shringla on cross border terrorism: Referring to cross border terrorism from Pakistan, the foreign secretary said India has continued to ward off the menace from its western border. Shringla arrived in Paris as part of his week-long tour of France, Germany and the UK. “Despite the pandemic, we have dealt with the worst crisis in decades on our border with China and we have done so with firmness and maturity. At the same time, we have continued to ward off terrorism from across our western border,” he said.
Shringla on Indo-Pacific Region: “Our immediate challenges have not distracted us from broader strategic goals, especially in the Indo-Pacific Region, where we are moving purposefully at multiple levels to create an open, inclusive architecture. India is emerging at the centre of a network of initiatives,” he added.
Shringla on radicalism: Referring to the threat of terrorism and radicalism, Shringla said the radical ideology espouses violence and separatism, very often fanned and supported by foreign influence, adding such forces seek to destabilize pluralist societies. “It was horrifying to hear about the two recent terrorist incidents in France, one of which, as is very often the case, had its origins in our western neighbourhood — Pakistan,” he said.
“For the past three decades, we have experienced what unbridled radicalism can wreak and what malevolent violent forces it can unleash. The civilised world needs to act together and act with firmness to address this threat to our cherished democratic value systems,” Shringla added.
Shringla on COVID-19: India too has suffered enormous consequences of the pandemic. Being almost 20 times your population, our challenges were particularly daunting. India’s response to the pandemic has been driven by the wisdom and evidence of science. The world has been learning and re-learning how to deal with the pandemic and so have we. We have drawn lessons at every stage and we have not hesitated to accept the advice of our doctors and scientists or to adopt global best practices.
An early lockdown, when numbers were low, gave us time to ramp up capacities and to prepare ourselves for a long-drawn spell of pandemic protocols. As a consequence of such messaging, often coming from Prime Minister Narendra Modi himself, there has been public awareness about the importance of wearing masks and respecting social distancing norms. This has allowed India to tackle the pandemic and keep the burden on our health infrastructure within manageable limits.
The economic impact of pandemic has been the biggest challenge. During the first phase of the crisis, we announced a massive 266 billion dollar stimulus and support package, amounting to almost 10% of our GDP, directed at helping low-income groups, migrants and those in the informal economy who were affected by the lockdown, marginal farmers, and small businesses. We deferred tax payments, injected liquidity into the economy and lowered interest rates. We inaugurated a food transfer programme that ensured extra rations to 800 million people. This programme, the world’s largest and covering a population larger than that of the continent of Europe, is still under operation.
Shringla on global transition: The pandemic has accelerated global transition and will increase geopolitical competition and tension. The pandemic period has witnessed geopolitical repositioning primarily by China and the United States. The EU has also formulated its position which has striking similarities with India particularly with regard to maintaining strategic autonomy and our commitment to effective and reformed multilateralism. After a long time in the post-Cold War era, we are witnessing a convergence of geopolitics with geo-economics. Geopolitics is also affecting economic and technology flows. Besides security, it will hamper efforts to address global challenges like climate change, terrorism and pandemics, as also serious emerging threats in the space and cyber domains. The pandemic will also test the times for realising the Sustainable Development Goals.
Shringla on contemporary geopolitics: What does all this mean for contemporary geopolitics? To start with, it will shape the nature and terms of India’s engagement with major economies like the US, China, EU, Japan, ASEAN, etc. Two, the practices that India perfects at home will inevitably become exportable abroad. They too will play out, obviously differently in different geographies.
Three, the need for greater global conversations on resilient supply chains. Some of these are ongoing G2G exercises; others would be discussions with the business. Finally, India’s own thinking about deeper global economic engagement with the world will be influenced by both geopolitical divides and pandemic pressures. There was already a reassessment of FTA experiences, keeping in mind the unsettling impact they have had on India’s manufacturing. The attention could now well shift to becoming part of global value chains, complemented by focused trading arrangements. This would be so especially as efforts towards making India an easier location for doing business gain traction. We are conscious of the need not just to improve on our own record but to become more competitive.
The events of this year have demonstrated how imperative it is for like-minded countries to coordinate responses to various challenges that the pandemic has brought to the fore. As we collectively navigate these uncharted waters, we seek to emerge from the pandemic more resilient than ever before. We cannot afford to let multilateralism be held hostage by great power competition. A multipolar world without an international order based on rule of law and collaboration will lead to uncertainty and turbulence. In this context, India attaches great importance to Europe and France, as independent poles in the emerging multipolar order.
Shringla on India’s membership of the UN Security Council: As India assumes membership of the UN Security Council next year we look forward to seeking collective solutions to global challenges, including global recovery from the pandemic and reform of multilateral institutions. The pandemic has reaffirmed the centrality of multilateralism in our interconnected world for not only matters of international security but also international governance. Sadly, the pandemic revealed the shortcomings of some of the multilateral institutions which, for instance, could not even agree on the messaging for fighting the virus. The clarion call for reformed multilateralism has been sounded. The solution to the weakness of multilateral institutions does not lie in bypassing or debilitating them, but in reforming them. In this, we are together with France in the initiative of ‘Alliance for Multilateralism’. We look forward to coordinating with France in the Security Council, both on immediate challenges and in setting strategic directions for the UN system.
Shringla on India-France ties: He stressed the importance that India attaches to its relationships with Europe and France. For India, European unity and solidarity is a priority. We appreciate the French position with regard to European ‘sovereignty’ and a common and independent defence and security posture. There is a keen desire to avoid extreme choices being put forward by the current geopolitical situation.
The India-France strategic partnership and India-EU strategic partnership have become more important to achieve our economic sovereignty objectives, strengthen our strategic autonomy, advance security and equilibrium in the Indo-Pacific Region and reform and restore multilateralism. To put it more simply, when we look at our objectives of transforming India to make it greener, more digital and more technology-driven, Europe stands out as a partner of choice. Today, technology is the source of power and so digital sovereignty and competitiveness have acquired added significance.
As independent poles in the emerging multipolar order, both France and Europe have thus acquired a new salience in India’s worldview and its foreign policy. As you may notice, after several months of the halt in diplomatic travel, my first trip outside India’s immediate neighbourhood is to Europe. This is not an accident. And one of the most important diplomatic engagements that India had during the pandemic was the virtual 15th India-EU summit in July, where we charted out a very ambitious agenda for cooperation.
India’s relationship with France has gone from strength to strength in the past two decades. Our two countries became strategic partners in 1998 and this traditional relationship is enduring, trustworthy, like-minded, and all-encompassing. Our strategic embrace is tighter than ever, underpinned by the mutual understanding at the level of our political leadership and consolidated by the ever-expanding linkages between our two societies and economies. Both leaders, Prime Minister Modi and President Macron, attach top priority to the strategic partnership between the two countries. When I look at the agenda of our bilateral ties, there is virtually no field of human endeavour that is not covered by it and there are many compelling pulls in the relationship. Allow me to briefly dwell on these.
India and France are strong partners in the Indo-Pacific. We are united in our vision of the importance of maintaining a free, open and inclusive Indo-Pacific. We remain committed to upholding the rules-based international order, underpinned by the rule of law, transparency, freedom of navigation in the international seas, respect for territorial integrity and sovereignty, and peaceful resolution of disputes. Our objective remains to advance the security and the economic interests of all countries having legitimate and vital interests in the region. Our Indo-Pacific concept has gained increasingly wider acceptance. In this context, the Indo-Pacific Oceans Initiative that we tabled at the East Asia Summit last year holds considerable promise.
It gives me great satisfaction that France and India are taking forward our shared approach on the Indo-Pacific through several cooperation mechanisms that exist between our two countries, including between the Foreign Offices, our Ministries of Defence, and our military and civilian entities. A testament to this is the recently held India-France-Australia trilateral dialogue which witnessed convergence among the three countries on issues such as protecting global marine commons and HADR and maritime security in the Indo-Pacific.
India and France face similar non-traditional security threats in the form of radicalism and terrorism and increasingly cyber-security challenges. In some respects, these are linked – not least because online radicalisation has emerged as a pressing concern. Both India and France have suffered. The fight today is not against specific communities or individuals but against a radical politico-religious ideology that attempts to negate the progress made by secular democracies, particularly when it involves the equality of all citizens, regardless of religion or ethnicity, and the rights of women.
This radical ideology espouses violence and separatism, very often fanned and supported by foreign influence. Such forces seek to destabilize pluralist societies. It was horrifying to hear about the two recent terrorist incidents in France, one of which, as is very often the case, had its origins in our western neighbourhood – Pakistan. For the past three decades, we have experienced what unbridled radicalism can wreak – and what malevolent violent forces it can unleash. The civilised world needs to act together and act with firmness to address this threat to our cherished democratic value systems.